First up: Tarts of Pleasure a.k.a. Ultragrrrl and KarenPlusOne, two chicks who totally OWNED our inaugural Nightlife Awards in 2005, collectively taking home three awards in the Best Promoters, Peoples' Choice: Best DJ and Peoples' Choice: Best Party categories. We chatted with Ultragrrrl and KarenPlusOne (otherwise known as Sarah Lewitinn and Karen Ruttner) about their Stolen Transmission parties at Orchard Bar (R.I.P.) and that time Lindsay Lohan scrawled "Scarlett is a bloody cunt" on a bathroom wall.
What are you two up to these days?
Ultragrrrl a.k.a. Sarah Lewitinn: I'm the music director at Aritizia so it's almost like a glorified DJ position. I program the music for 52 stores in North America and then I'm putting together the music brand integration that Aritizia's doing. We're launching into the music space in a big way in 2014.
Prior to Aritizia, I was at NYLON as the music director and before that, I was at Edelman [PR firm] and I was doing digital strategy over there with a focus on music. [At the time we were throwing parties], I was a writer at SPIN and had my own record label, Stolen Transmission.
KarenPlusOne a.k.a. Karen Ruttner: I've done a lot of things but have been in artist management for three years. When we first started DJing, I worked at a music booking agency, The Agency Group, and then I did PR for two years or so and some freelance writing for a bunch of magazines. I got into music management shortly after that.
How did you two originally get into DJing and hosting parties?
KPO: I met Sarah originally through Carlos [Dengler] from Interpol. He introduced us at a Faint show. At the time, since she was a writer at SPIN and I was at The Agency Group, we were popping up at the same shows and started bonding over music quickly.
UG: Karen and I randomly started DJing -- we had these guy friends that were doing a party at the Orchard Bar and they asked us to DJ one night. We were already a DJ duo at that point.
KPO: It started as a "girls vs. boys" thing.
UG: We had such a great time and all of our friends came and everyone was dancing and our guy friends took us out for drinks a week later and said, "We'd like you to do this every week with us." We were like, "We'll do it!"
I remember it was very effortless for us. We would just invite all of our friends and we would DJ 'til 4am. Everyone would come, dance and love the music. There wasn't pressure or worry if people would come. They just did. We didn't have to worry about if the music was good. It just was. It was almost serendipitous.
What was the vibe like at your Stolen Transmission parties?
UG: The crowd was a mix of music industry people and regular people. I just remember making out nonstop. Boys would come and try to make out with me or Karen. If you wanted to dance, that's where you went. If you wanted to get drunk, that's where you went. If you wanted to make out with someone in the bathroom, that's where you went. If you wanted to break rules, that's where you went. There was lots of sex. A few people actually met there, got together and got married after meeting there. I've DJ'd a few weddings.
KPO: Bands would come to our parties because they liked the kind of music we were playing.
UG: We'd have Muse there or Interpol there. All these bands would come when they were passing through town because it was just a dirty party. It was before all of these "dirty parties" where everyone's taking Special K or whatever. There also wasn't Instagram or tons of party photographers. You didn't take a picture and sit down and upload it on Instagram and wait and see how many "likes" you got.
Ultragrrrl made us a Stolen Transmission-themed playlist!
What kind of music were you spinning then?
UG: One of the big songs we did was Harvey Danger's "Flagpole Sitta" and that was one of the songs we re-launched in a way. People loved it and it became one of our staples. I had an email friendship with the singer and I looked him up and said, "Dude, we're DJing your song and it's a hit. Next time you're in NYC, come DJ." So he did.
KPO: There was no pretension in terms of the music we played. We were playing a lot of We Are Scientists, Bloc Party, Interpol, My Chemical Romance.
UG: We used to play "Helena" at the end of the night. It was our very last song to tell people it's time to go home. I remember one time my friend Jenny ended up getting naked right on the dance floor when we played it one night. She just took off all of her clothes!
We'd play whatever band was on the cusp, which at that time were bands like The Killers, Franz Ferdinand. We'd also play Hot Chip and Joy Division. Art Brut. Taking Back Sunday.
What else do you remember from those parties or just that time in general?
UG: We used to keep a bottle of Manischewitz in the DJ booth that people could swig from. Karen and I were both raised Orthodox and our parties were on Friday nights so that was our homage to Shabbat.
KPO: We DJ'd a lot at Darkroom and one night Lindsay Lohan came in with Kate Moss. They were both completely fucked up. Lindsay kept coming up to the DJ booth asking us to play her song. Thankfully, the CD she gave me must have been burned incorrectly because the machine couldn't read it. Then she went into the bathroom and wrote "Scarlett is a bloody cunt" because apparently she was fighting with Scarlett Johansson over the same dude or something.
Ultragrrrl (left) and KarenPlusOne (right) and their bottle of Manischewitz behind the DJ boothAnd eventually your Stolen Transmission parties moved venues?
KPO: Orchard Bar got shut down because it was always getting raided by cops. We moved it to The Annex and then Angels & Kings and Hanger Bar. We had a good run at The Annex but Angels & Kings started getting weird because they told us we had to play a lot of Fall Out Boy since the crowd was all FOB fans and that was what they were expecting to hear. When we got the offer to move to Hanger Bar, that was a way for us to take control of what the crowd would be like and it became a '90s party.
When did the party end?
KPO: In 2009. Our friends and us were all hitting 30 and we were getting tired and had day jobs. When we were at Orchard Bar, I was 23/24 and all of our friends were that age.
UG: Yeah, we wanted to get more serious in our jobs, health and personal lives. Staying out 'til 4am every night wasn't conducive to that.
What do you think of the Lower East Side nowadays?
KPO: It's terrible! I do think it's really easy for people in the previous generation of nightlife to write off the new generation -- I remember when we won our Nightlife Awards , older nightlife people were making snarking comments -- but I think the problem is that when we started, there were so many bands hanging around the LES. There was such a scene built around music. Everyone wanted to be around bands and we populated our parties with musicians. Nowadays, I don't think there is that scene. I don't think there are bands like that or a culture of people that other people gravitate towards and want to be around. It's lots of EDM and hip-hop and Miley Cyrus. It's a totally different world so I feel like people don't have anything to gravitate towards and the scene is completely fractured.
The LES has a hell of a lot of bros and the people that are trying to avoid the bros are going to hotel bars and rooftops. It's just a little bit swankier. I've noticed that a lot of it has shifted to the hotel scene now. I think that the underground music culture has splintered off into pockets of Brooklyn.
Ultragrrrl and KarenPlusOne now
And what do you think about New York nightlife in general?
UG: A lot of the scene in 2009 [when our party stopped] had changed to the point where everything became documented. It took away from those moments of 'nowness' and turned it into a thing where people were constantly concerned with how people perceived them. If you see photos of Karen and I from that time, we looked like shit. We joke that we ate every single pie in existence.
KPO: There were people like The Cobrasnake and Last Night's Parties were shooting parties but it just wasn't the focus back then.
UG: Last Night's Parties started at our parties.
Are there any parties or bars right now that you think keep the spirit of Stolen Transmission and that scene alive?
UG: Anything that Mike Nouveau is doing keeps our spirit alive because he just DJs our DJ set from the Orchard Bar.
Photos courtesy of Sarah Lewitinn and Karen Ruttner